Representative Robert "Rob" Wittman just began his second full term in the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia's 1st District, which stretches from Prince William County in northern Virginia to Yorktown in the state's tidewater region. Wittman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Committee on Natural Resources, was a co-sponsor of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 (H.R. 1722) which President Barack Obama signed into law on December 9, 2010. Congressman Wittman recently spoke with The Teleworker about the new telework law and its impact on Federal agencies, traffic congestion, national security, and the environment.
On behalf of Telework Exchange, please accept our sincere congratulations on the recent enactment of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. Thank you for co-sponsoring this legislation and speaking on its behalf on the House floor. What are your perspectives on the specific ways this new law will affect Federal agency staff and operations?
This law fosters the use of telework by ensuring that each Federal agency has a telework policy in place and that employees are informed about their eligibility to telework. It also ensures that those Federal employees who are eligible to telework are able to do so with an emphasis on enhancing agency operations and productivity.
Why is telework an important issue for you?
With the advent of technology, working from home has never been easier. Telework allows employees the flexibility they might not otherwise have, to work from home during inclement weather, to ensure continuity during an emergency, and to simply avoid a lengthy, stressful commute. And getting cars off the road is a win on many levels, from reducing traffic congestion to reducing pollution emitted from vehicles. Just last year, winter storms nearly brought the Federal government to a halt. With telework, operations can continue even when folks cannot make the trek to work. In Virginia, we not only have thousands of Federal employees, but also many of these employees work within the National Capital Region, which is known for its heavy traffic congestion.
Separately, telework plays an integral role in support of our nation's security, which is always a top priority. In the Director of National Intelligence's (DNI) Vision 2015, collaboration through telework is forecasted to be a key component of the Federal government's infrastructure. According to DNI,
"By 2015, employees from different agencies will have to be collocated to more remote locations, away from centralized headquarters. The needs for cross-organizational collaboration, cross-functional teams and programs such as Joint Duty will require a more agile infrastructure. By this, we mean to suggest a deliberate strategy that shifts from agency-centric, massively consolidated facilities towards a more distributed and integrated model that uses hoteling practices and creates more open and collaborative workspaces. Agile infrastructure will be based on two principles – collocation of cross-functional teams (e.g., collection disciplines, science and technology, analysts, mission managers) around projects or specific missions, and virtual collocation, where a dispersed workforce can rapidly coalesce to respond to new tasking. A facilities strategy will be developed that takes into account both physical and virtual collaboration..."
I will be working to explore how Federal agencies dealing in classified or sensitive information can adopt telework strategies.
What will be the role of Congress to ensure that Federal agency telework programs are implemented as the Act outlines?
Congress will play an oversight role in ensuring that Federal agencies meet their telework milestones and ensuring that telework policies bring about the intended benefits, from greater productivity to cost savings.
Can you provide insights into how passage of the Telework Enhancement Act will serve to make Federal agencies operate more efficiently?
This legislation will foster the use of telework by Federal agencies, resulting in cost savings and improved readiness and emergency preparedness. Telework can help ease congestion on the roads but can also ensure continuity of government in the case of a national emergency, or weather-related shutdowns.
Your district covers two regions that struggle with traffic congestion (Northern Virginia and the Tidewater). How will this new law have a positive impact on the transportation networks in your district and how will it affect the lives of your core constituents?
I commute more than 80 miles each way to Washington every day that Congress is in session. Lengthy commutes pose concerns for transportation infrastructure and employee quality of life. Further, sometimes the traffic congestion numbers fail to capture who is in the car – a mother looking to pick up her child from daycare, or a student commuting from his/her part-time job to class. In each case, these commuters would rather have more time with their children, more time to prepare for class, etc. Time is valuable and telework is a viable component to help improve quality of life in many ways.
Many may not know that before you were elected to serve, much of your previous career was focused on environmental health and related issues. Considering your professional experience, coupled with your current position as a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, would you share your thoughts on how the new telework law will impact the environment?
Adding more cars to the road is simply not good for the environment and in our region, many transportation networks are already over capacity. Pollution reduction and energy conservation are essential to keeping our natural resources healthy and abundant. I believe that it is vital to conserve energy resources and to reduce pollution, such as the carbon emissions from automobiles.
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